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NASCAR’s roots in the United States have resulted in the sport being dominated by American drivers. However, NASCAR drivers don’t invariably hail from the United States, as plenty of professional drivers from other countries have competed in the sport’s top division over the sport’s 75-year history. 

The history of NASCAR in the U.S.

NASCAR famously began as a way as a result of bootleggers and other hot-rodders competing against one another. The unorganized sport’s earliest days featured cars that came from a dealership lot – they were never originally engineered as racing machines – but had been modified by owners to eke out every bit of speed, originally to outrun law enforcement. 

As this type of racing between “stock” cars gained a foothold, Bill France Sr. spearheaded efforts to formally sanction these races, leading to the birth of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, NASCAR, in 1948. 

Over the last 75 years, NASCAR has generally continued with its original formula – racing among the same cars the average car buyers can purchase. However, NASCAR machines have little in common with their road-going counterparts today.  

Famous foreign NASCAR drivers

When Shane van Gisbergen won the inaugural Chicago Street Race in July 2023, it was a notable moment not just because it was the driver’s first race in the NASCAR Cup Series – he also joined a short list of non-U.S. drivers to win in the sport’s top division. 

While non-American-born drivers have competed in NASCAR for decades, only six have captured wins at the sport’s highest level. They include; 

  • Marcos Ambrose (Australia): 2 wins 
  • Juan Pablo Montoya (Colombia): 2 wins
  • Daniel Suarez (Mexico): 1 win 
  • Mario Andretti (Italy): 1 win 
  • Earl Ross (Canada): 1 win 
  • Shane van Gisbergen (New Zealand): 1 win 

Several non-U.S. native drivers have also won in NASCAR’s lower divisions. Ron Fellows and Larry Pollard of Canada, Nelson Piquet Jr. of Brazil, and Montoya and Suarez have all captured wins in the Xfinity Series. Raphael Lessard and Stewart Friesen, both hailing from Canada, have won in NASCAR’s Truck Series. 

NASCAR’s recent inclusion of more road courses on its schedule has also led to more non-American drivers competing in the Cup Series. Along with van Gisbergen, Kimi Raikkonen (Finland), Brodie Kostecki (Canada), Jenson Button (England), Mike Rockenfeller (Germany), and Kamui Kobayashi (Japan) all drove in NASCAR Cup Series races in 2023. 

Why are most NASCAR drivers American?

Most NASCAR drivers hail from the United States because the sport is decidedly American. Unlike other racing disciplines, such as sports cars or GT racing, there isn’t an international equivalent to NASCAR in most parts of the world. However, NASCAR does sanction series run in Europe, Canada, Mexico, and Brazil.

As such, NASCAR racing, in which “stock” cars intended to all have the same performance with most races run on oval tracks, doesn’t translate to many areas outside of the U.S. NASCAR’s popularity is also generally limited in these areas, so prospective professional drivers typically seek to drive in other racing disciplines. 

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